Worldwide taxi strikes: we should all worry about Uber – Graeme Codrington

UberTechnology is rapidly eradicating jobs we thought could never disappear. Taxi drivers are the latest on the list to confront how smartphones are radically changing the way we live.  As trends analyst Graeme Codrington notes, there are lessons in the Uber app saga for everyone everywhere. This starts with understanding that we’re all going to have to reinvent ourselves constantly as the pace of change speeds up – whether we drive cabs in London or work in Johannesburg mine shafts. Let’s also not underestimate the sharing economy. From our guest rooms to empty car seats, there are opportunities in making better use of the assets we have. – JC

Leading trends analyst Graeme Codrington explains why we should all take note of taxi strikes about an app called Uber.

By Graeme Codrington*

On Wednesday afternoon, taxi cab drivers in London, Madrid and Berlin did what other taxis had done across Europe this week and staged a strike, gridlocking cities across the continent. They were protesting against an app called Uber that connects people who want to rent a car with private people who are willing to give them a ride. These taxi drivers are fighting against the future and will lose. And there’s a lesson here for every company in every industry.

The taxi drivers were claiming that this four year-old app has created unfair competition for them.  Instead of standing on the side of the street hoping that an empty cab will just happen to drive past you, the app uses location-based technology to allow you to instantly call the nearest free taxi. You let the app know where you want to go, and the free taxi drivers in the area get to decide whether they want to take you there.

Once a match has been made, you are sent the taxi’s details including a photo of the driver and can track the taxi on a live map as it makes its way to you. Once in the car, your own phone’s GPS tracks the route and becomes the meter. When the ride is over, payment is made automatically by the app using your preloaded credit card information. No mess, no fuss.

Taxi apps have been around for a while, but Uber is different in four ways:

  • it allows private individuals to use their own cars and therefore provides many more taxi opportunities in its system (Uber CEO Travis Kalanick claims they create over 20 000 new jobs every month around the world this way, as they operate in 37 countries and 128 cities);
  • it uses a flexible pricing system which increases the price of a taxi ride during periods of peak demand (Uber calls this surge pricing, and the original reason was to encourage more drivers to be available during key periods – true supply and demand theory in operation);
  • it uses the GPS on your own phone as the meter for the ride.  It’s this that the London taxi drivers latched onto as the pretext for their strike (they rent their meters from Transport for London and pay about £200 a year for them);
  • it allows both drivers and passengers to rate each other, and these ratings are made public in the app in the future.  It encourages improved behaviour from everyone involved.

The only thing unfair about Uber’s system for existing taxi drivers is that it leverages modern technology  to make the whole taxi experience much more user-friendly and brings it into the 21st century. Uber has made an activity that many people around the world do every day much simpler, more efficient and totally user friendly.  nd they’ve also linked it in with the only thing that most people now have within arms length 24 hours a day: their smartphones.

The Smart Shareconomy

As such, Uber signals something more important than just a clever way to call a cab. Uber is one of a growing number of services to do two things that are set to change the world:

* Firstly, Uber is smart.  Not just clever. Uber links into all the things that make our smartphones (or tablets, or phablets, or whatever you prefer) smart.  You’ve got a problem?  Well, hopefully there’s an app for that. Smartphones reduce complex tasks down to easy-to-use and beautifully designed apps that bring solutions, information and connections to your fingertips in real time.  Increasingly, this is what your consumers and your staff want. From shopping to managing investments, from clocking in at the office to getting the news, from finding directions to managing the air conditioning, smart homes, smart offices and smart devices will be interlinked creating smart lives.

It comes down to the digitization of your business and your life. Not in some cyborg, big brother way, but rather in clever little ways that help you simplify and streamline your life. The more your business can tap into these intersecting trends, using the Internet of Things, apps, social systems and smartphones, the more successful and future-proof you will be. But you could also sit back, like the taxi drivers have been doing for the past few years, and fool yourself that your industry will not be affected by the shift to a smart world or that the way in which you run your industry is the way it’s always been and the way it will always be.  And you can tell yourself that apps, social media and smartphones are just a fad for the kids.  You’d be wrong.  But you could fool yourself anyway.

* Secondly, Uber is another giant stepping stone in our walk towards the sharing economy, or shareconomy.  In fact, this is Uber’s ultimate intention. Their website doesn’t even talk about cars much at all. It talks about creating a world where we can share our assets with others and make them more productive. Did you know, for example, that the average handheld drill only gets used for 7 minutes in its lifetime?  So why do we all own one? Why not just have one per street, and borrow it when you need it?  In the past the answer has been that it’s too difficult to make that happen. That’s not true anymore.

Uber wants us not just sharing our cars, but sharing many other assets too. And they’ll be at the centre of this revolution. It’s time for you to think about the digitization and radical change in use of the assets in your industry – and your life.

Not Just a Fad

There are a lot of people betting on Uber’s vision of the future world. Just last week, Uber announced it had raised $1.2 billion from a variety of top tier investors and financiers. That values the company at $17 billion (a market cap similar to Avis and Hertz combined, by the way!). Not bad for a four year old app.

On Wednesday, as taxi drivers around Europe were on strike, Uber had an 850% increase in signups. Talk about an own goal by the taxi industry. Uber’s digital marketing campaign this week has been: “While the taxi protests may seek to bring Europe to a standstill, we’ll be on hand to get our riders from A to B.”  And so they did.

And soon they’ll turn their attention on your industry. I wonder what they’ll find when they do. You can’t fight the future. It’s coming for all of us. And it’s coming fast.

* Graeme Codrington is a trends analyst, author and presenter on issues affecting the new world of work.  He can be contacted at [email protected]




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